The Refugee Crises in Africa and Europe: We Are All in It Together

I grew up in Germany, in a village outside Stuttgart. It’s a pretty traditional area where most people know each other and most speak Swabian, a German dialect that is almost impossible to understand for the un-indoctrinated.

I’m back home for a visit and we’re watching the evening news as we’ve always done. Today’s events: another 40 people died crossing the Mediterranean – amongst them 17 children. 10,000 refugee minors are declared missing. German Chancellor Angela Merkel still negotiates caps and asylum rights for refugees but country after country is closing its borders.

In the old days, we’d watch the news and then quickly forget such events as these: they happened far away. But now the news has come to us, and we must respond. A new reality has swept across Europe including Germany. So much has changed, and I’m filled with a mix of pride, hope and worry as my valley tries to adapt to the new reality of recent months.

Foto of a Refugee Camp outside Stuttgart, Germany.

Refugee Camp outside Stuttgart, Germany. Home to 120 young men from Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan

Like many other communities in Germany, my village of some 5,000 people now hosts around 250 refugees from Africa, the Middle East, from Pakistan and Afghanistan. They live in mobile homes quickly erected in fields around the towns; some lucky families have been assigned a house.

But it’s not enough, neither in my village nor in other parts of Germany. Bus load after bus load arrive and the towns no longer know where to put all these people. At the village school there are no more sports classes – 60 refugees now live in the gymnasium. The meadow around our outdoor swimming pool is being cleared for new mobile homes for 60 more refugees. The streets are filled with people speaking Swabian and 40 plus other tongues. The pressure is rising and fear grows among locals and refugees alike.

Statistics show that in 2015 Germany alone took in one million refugees. Some 2016 projections are double this. What these numbers don’t convey are the individual stories of unimaginable suffering but also of hope. These people come to Germany because their own countries are unsafe: they have no hope for a better future. Many would go back if things were different. But things are not different and so, instead of going home, these refugees bring their families and encourage their friends to flee too.

So far, the majority of German people are trying to help – and I am incredibly proud of the many in my village who have welcomed the refugees. But I worry about how much longer this will be the case. Occurrences like the New Year’s incidents in Cologne spread fear, and fear can trigger anger that leads to passive – and active – aggression.

Refugees and displaced people are not just in Europe; it’s a rising global problem with repercussions felt everywhere. In 2015 UNHCR released its reportWorldwide displacement hits all-time high as war and persecution increase.” The reported numbers are shocking, “Globally, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.” In 2014 almost 60 million people had been forcibly displaced, and the report predicts that the situation is likely to worsen further.

If you are reading this blog it’s likely that you are already very much aware of these statistics. You might even be actively involved in programs and projects that serve internally displaced persons or refugees, and working towards increasing equitable access to education. If so, we’d love to hear from you. USAID ECCN’s goal is to improve policy, planning and programming for education in crisis and conflict settings, and given the massive displacements occurring around the world, providing effective learning opportunities to displaced children and youth should be high on our agenda. To best highlight this issue and offer practical solutions, we need you: your passion, your knowledge, and your experience. Our collective insight can lead the way and USAID ECCN is here to convene and facilitate this process.

What can you do?

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Posted in Community of Practice, Forced Displacement Education, Understand and Strive for Equity
5 comments on “The Refugee Crises in Africa and Europe: We Are All in It Together
  1. My quick brief thought in addition to Bettina’s points:

    I think it is important to emphasize that refugees are a heterogeneous group – some refugees have disabilities, some are LGBTQ, and some are children. And these groups definitely have different needs. This clearly implies that our responses to the refugee crises should not be ‘one size fits all’. Strategies should be varied and responsive to the diverse needs of refugees.

    On another note, while it is true that allyship (non-refugees supporting the whole movement) is important in addressing the issue , it is but essential that we actively engage refugees themselves in all the processes – decision making, advocacy, policy making – especially that they are directly affected by the issue and that they have the experiences to tell. Indeed, nothing about refugees, without refugees.


  2. Profile photo of Saba Ismail Saba Ismail says:

    Refugees and IDPs all over the world face challenges and needs attention. I would like to share the situation from my country. Pakistan has been facing the issue of religious extremism and militancy for more than a decade and millions of people have been displaced especially in the North Western Province “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa” Province where I come from. First in 2009 millions of people were displaced internally in Pakistan after the Taliban and militants occupy Swat valley. People who were internally displaced faced lots of challenges. Secondly when Pakistan Army started the Zarb e Azab operation in 2014 in North Waziristan more than a million people were again displaced in Pakistan.

    IDPs in Pakistan face many challenges but young women and girls face double challenges when displaced because of their gender. Displaced women face severe health problems, access to education, psychological problems and sociocultural problems.

    Aware Girls; a young women led organization that I co founded worked to address the gender specific needs of Internally Displaced Women through Education, Advocacy and Service Provision. We conducted health and hygiene Education Sessions with women who were living in camps and even those who returned back. We provided health and hygiene kits especially designed for women in the camps. We also did advocacy meetings for engendering humanitarian response with UN agencies, media and civil society of Pakistan. We advocated for the gender main streaming of the humanitarian response and National Plan of Action for Disaster Management in Pakistan.

    It is extremely important to look at this issue through a gender lens as half of any refugees or IDPs compromise of women and problems can not be solved without ignoring half of the population.

    Saba Ismail

  3. Profile photo of Ayo Oladini Ayo Oladini says:

    I completely agree with my good friend Sani on his submission from communication, national and regional perspective. I will like to share my opinion from a development perspective from the context of refugee or displaced people especially in conflict and crisis environment as in Nigeria.

    Nigeria has grappled with orphans and vulnerable children and youth (including the almajiri) before the armed insurgent that led to much higher orphans, widows and the traumatized population. While the orphans and vulnerable before now were already integrated within host communities, the internally displaced population has further compounded the situation for communities previously requiring a state of emergency in the provision of basic education and psycho social services required make them contribute positively to the community they lived in. One wonderful experience working with displaced population in Nigeria is the tremendous open-arm reception of local/host communities to (in their statements) their ‘fellow brothers and sisters’ and being the first set of people to provide the social and emotional skills in accommodating fleeing and traumatized nationals as they say ‘we could have been the ones in their shoes and this may happen to us too’.

    While so many families enthusiastically welcomed and are hosting the displaced, the socio-economic stress this population placed on some communities and individuals is indescribable. Three square meals, safe and dignified shelter, minimal health, appropriate clothing, appropriate counseling and referral for psycho-social related cases are never available nor guaranteed despite national and internal agencies providing the scarce non-food items. This on a continuous basis, is leading into despair, hopelessness, anger, among the displaced and the host communities as contained in some rapid assessment conducted under the auspices of international development partners like USAID which is in the public domain.

    Apart from some federal and state efforts to mainstream students in a few schools that were completely burnt down, no one gave any thought or plan for the education of a large number of other children and youth including adolescent girls living in host communities and potentially time bomb if this group is not well engaged. The good thing is that, most displaced group across the region are still mobile, can be accommodated within safer communities (unlike in other countries) and most importantly, parents and care givers as well as host communities are desirous of supporting measures to provide quality, safe, protective and alternative education to their children even at the face of complete loss of their livelihood.

    These opportunities have been largely responsible for the huge positive impact of the USAID-funded Education Crisis Response project in Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe and Yobe states where over 14,000 first cohort of internally displaced children and youth (including adolescent girls) were enrolled and completed accelerated quality, safe and protective basic education/alternative education program ( including marketable vocational skills for youth and adolescent girls) with ‘do no harm’ lens and provision of social and emotional skills using the non-formal learning centers approach. Currently, a second cohort of over 16,000 internally displace children and youth from host communities are enrolled in January, 2016.

    The major challenges of rapid recovery effort and mainstreaming graduated learners into formal school; providing in-kind support for youth/adolescent girls after graduating could be addressed by:
    • Federal and state provision of budget line for rapid education and psycho-social support (referral/counselling) for IDP learners’ population and mainstreaming them to nearby school upon graduation in the affected north eastern states.
    • Rapidly renovating and re-constructing damaged schools using the community coalition/PTA/school-based committee platform which will require them drawing school improvement action plan.
    • Working through state Mass Education Agencies to explore the non-formal learning approach (mass education) employed in the USAID-funded ECR project to rapidly respond to the education needs of IDP children and youth/adolescent girls
    • Working through government institutions (State Mass Education, Women affairs etc) and UN agencies like UNDP, UNHCR to provide marketable vocational skills with support after graduation.
    • Declare a state of emergency in education for curriculum loss, by scaling up of mass education and vocational skills acquisition in the north eastern states in particular to bridge the big gap created
    • Deliberately and directly supporting affected communities to regain their means of livelihood.

  4. The best way and approach to the issues of IDPs and Refugees is a greater mobilization for awareness and media campaign to move policy makers, philanthropists and the leaders of faiths.
    1. Both Print and Electronic Media as well as social media must be carried along. Series of first hand account stories supported with video and still pictures, be posted on websites, Facebook, whatsapp aired on international and local media, published in international journals, magazines and online newspapers NGO Networks and small booklet very handy and straight to the point ; calling for sympathy and support – (to be distributed on local and international flights).
    2. A short pathetic documentary footage on the genesis, problems, challenges and the plight of the IDPs and Refugees across the world particularly on Africa and the Midfle-East.
    Preferred film shots/picture wide shots and destructions, massive movement focus on elders and children, struggle for food at refugee camps, children looking doll and idle during day-time etc.
    Short appealing interviews of elders women and children.
    A stand upper is required by the drifter or narrator at the end of the film “”Refugees and IDPs are people like, future leaders now in crisis. No food, No shelter, No Education and No religious education be caused they have been displaced and forced out of their homes and land. ……Remember – No education.,,,No future, Education is the bedrock of development world wide. Please come to think of it, these people could be forced by circumstances to turn against us. Yes I mean turn against u and I.
    Airline careers be mobilized to air the documentary films during their flights for greater out reach.
    NEXT STEPS is regional rallies and conferences in indoor facilities to guarantee safety and film shows. The final step is advocacy on EU and UN meetings, African leader during their AU meeting. For Nigeria, the team should target the 19 northern Governors Forum meeting.

    From the African perspectives

    • I second Sani’s statement that media can play an influential role. Media can generate empathy or promote fear. It’s always amazing to see how the same event can be documented from different angles and thus send a very different message. Also, what makes news and what does not is already a first choice that can influence the public’s perception. Just compare different news coverage within a country – or, even better, across different countries.

      Thankfully, in Germany so far we’ve had very pro-refugee media coverage. Very successful were media campaigns depicting celebrities showing solidarity with the refugees. Especially youth are very receptive to messages from their idols. But also short radio or newspaper interviews with refugees can personalize the situation and counter misconceptions.

      In addition to national and international (social) media coverage, I’d like to add the importance of local town hall meetings and the local press. I’ve seen major differences in how refugees ended up being integrated or isolated and hardly tolerated in even neighboring communities.

      Here are a couple of things that struck me as important:
      • Participatory processes seem to work best. Full disclosure and transparency of facts with the community are essential. Whitewashing a situation will backfire. But the focus needs to be on collective problem solving with a “can do attitude.”
      • Opportunities for locals and refugees to meet in common places engaging in joined activities can help break down barriers of prejudice. It’s harder to be afraid of something/somebody you know.
      • Watch for (perceived) inequalities. The most welcoming community can turn on a dime if their needs are not adequately considered. Refugees’needs should not be placed above those of the locals or you will lose local support. Compromises can be reached through open dialogue.

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